February recap

February always feels like a waiting month. I’m waiting for longer days, better weather, spring… and this year also an end of the lockdown. But well, in terms of reading it was another great month.

Read(ing)

Number of pages read: 1.479 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: The true queen by Alison Weir
Centuries visited: 16th century, 18th century, 20th century and the near future
Countries visited: England and France
Currently reading: The strange adventures of H by Sarah Burton. I’m almost finished!
Next up: I guess Amenable women by Mavis Cheek (it’s on my 2021 TBR) but I may pick up something different.

It seems as if I’m reading a lot of stories set in England and France these days. They are my favorite settings after all, but I hope to visit some other countries also. It was difficult to choose my favourite this month. The Alison Weir book received the highest rating, but I also enjoyed Flowers of darkness and the girl from Versailles a lot. Howard’s End was a classics club book which I also read in less than a week. I liked the story but found the characters a bit flat.

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • We’re in the middle of Black sails season 4. But for the rest, I’m just reading :D.

Links I enjoyed

Do you like February?

Catherine Of Aragon, the true queen by Alison Weir

Catalina Of Aragon is the youngest daughter of the Catholic kings, Isabella and Ferdinand, and destined to become queen of England. After a rough sea voyage she arrives in Engeland to marry prince Arthur, heir to the throne. But Arthur is shy and sickly. After only four months of marriage Catalina, now Catherine, becomes a widow. At the court of Henry VII, she sets her eyes on Arthur’s younger brother, the charismatic Henry, to become queen once more.

I must admit I had some doubts when starting ‘the true queen’. In the past I enjoyed some of Alison Weir’s books, but I also disliked her two novels about Queen Elizabeth (‘The lady Elizabeth’ and ‘The marriage game’). But I decided to give this series a try.

Catherine Of Aragon is the first of Henry VIII’s wives and a lot is known about her life. She’s a thankful subject to start off this series. And I believe Weir did a relatively great job. This book is 600 pages long and includes much detail. You can follow Catherine’s story from her first marriage to king Arthur, the years of poverty she had to endure afterwards at the court of Henry VII to her marriage with Henry VIII. A happy marriage at first but of course we all know that after some miscarriages Henry moves away from Catherine when he meets Anne Boleyn.

Having read about Catherine many times before, Weir could still hold my interest about these events. She respects the timeline until the moment that I was waiting on the Mary Boleyn affair. But that didn’t come. Weir’s Catherine is stubborn, devout, caring and naive. She dotes on Henry. But this implicates that she doesn’t know about him having affairs. Even when things start to get worse, Henry is still the loving husband. No one tells Catherine of his many affairs. And this bothered me. Because it just seems impossible that Catherine didn’t know. Especially not with Mary Boleyn who possibly bore him two children. But there were others.

This brings us to the characterization of Henry VIII. I didn’t like his portrayal in this novel. At the age of ten Catherine already finds him attractive (which is bit of perverse, don’t you think?). And from the moment they marry, he can’t do anything wrong. This also makes characters as Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and especially Anne Boleyn the villains. Reading from Catherine’s point of view, I can understand that Anne is demonized. But that Henry was just a meek man wrongly advised by the people around him (and thus a victim himself) goes a bit too far for me.

I’m really curious to see whether this is just the Henry from Catherine’s point of view and that we’ll get a different Henry in each book. If not, I’m not sure how Weir will make from this Henry a wife killer…

This book also gives an insight in Catherine’s relationships with the Spanish ambassadors, her ladies-in-waiting and her daughter Mary whom she loves dearly. Yes, it is a long book with a lot of detail, but that didn’t put me off. I enjoyed this book more than expected. And I’m looking forward to read Weir’s story about Anne Boleyn, hopefully finding a different Henry there.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read this series? Which one is your favourite so far?

The man in the iron mask by Alexandre Dumas

Our hero d’Artagnan is in the service of king Louis XIV as captain of The Musketeers. What he doesn’t know is that his friends Aramis and Porthos are plotting to remove the king. On the countryside, Raoul is still heartbroken over his love for Louise de la Vallière, the king’s mistress. His father Athos tries to console him. And in the Bastille, a young prisoner Philippe who bears a likeness to Louis, has no idea of the crime he has committed. These events will bring the former musketeers to opposing sides of a conflict at the heart of the Sun King’s court.

The man in the iron mask is the last part in the d’Artagnan romances. As I haven’t read the other books, apart from the first ‘The three musketeers’, I needed some time to understand what has happened before. Some day, I hope to read all these books again in order. Quite a task, I know.

The book opens with a strong prologue where Aramis visits a prisoner in the Bastille. We quickly discover our former musketeer, who is now bishop of Varenne, has contrived a plot against the king. Slowly, the other musketeers appear in the story and I did find the first few chapters very compelling and funny. There are a few scenes at a tailor’s shop that made me laugh out loud.

But when Aramis’ plot falls apart in the middle of the novel, the story does the same. Our attention moves to minister Fouquet and his fall out of grace with the king. There’s also the subplot of Raoul and Athos that I found a bit messy, but that might be because I haven’t read the previous books. Towards the end, the story grows stronger again and I did enjoy the last few chapters. I believe this is a great end to the series and to the lives of these characters that I love so much.

Maybe this book lacks a Milady De Winter or some other villain against which the musketeers can stand together. Now they are at opposing sides while still honoring their friendship. But nonetheless this is again a great piece of storytelling from Dumas and also a fine look into a fascinating part of French history.

This is book 2/50 for the Classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s your favourite Alexandre Dumas novel?

Should historical tv-series stick to the facts?

Since season 4 of The Crown was launched on Netflix, there has been a lot of drama about the representation of the marriage of Charles and Diana in the series. Of course, Diana was and is still highly loved by the public so everyone was looking forward to this particular season. Their marriage isn’t really shown as a love story. On the contrary, the series shows Charles madly in love with Camilla Parker Bowles before and during his time with Diana.

I haven’t started watching The Crown yet. Not even the first season. So I don’t have an opinion of this series in particular. But I find it quite stunning that everyone is demanding Netflix to place a disclaimer before every episode that it’s purely fiction.

Isn’t it strange that we all are expecting of The Crown to be historical accurate? It’s a Netflix drama. It’s meant to be entertaining. And yes, it’s based on real persons and events. And some of these persons are still alive today. But it has always been historical fiction. As is Victoria, The Last Kingdom, Braveheart, The Tudors and so on.

In some way, ‘The crown’ fits in people’s mind as ‘a based on true events’ story. Probably because it tells the story of people still alive today. But actually, it’s a wrong genre label. The crown is first and foremost historical fiction. None different from Victoria or The Tudors, where another English queen’s life is portrayed. The dialogues and interpretation of events are imagined. And yes, the series might stick to the objective facts, but places them in a subjective context, written for our entertainment.

The strength of historical fiction is that the story element really helps you remember the facts and also helps you see the bigger picture. That’s why it’s my favorite genre: I’m a history buff, but a mere history book won’t sweep me away as much as a fiction book that is written from the perspective of a famous person (or someone close to him/her).

But this also means that when doing that in a tv series that has fans worldwide about events not so long ago, this popular culture will influence the public opinion of these events. Diana was already beloved and Charles’ marriage to Camilla contested. But now a worldwide audience ‘learns’ of the secret affair between Charles and Camilla that broke Diana’s heart. It won’t do good for Camilla’s image. Even when we know wasn’t an affair during Charles’ first marriage to Diana at all (that element of the story is entirely fictional). We have seen this story on tv and it has resonated with our emotions.

So should there be a warning before every episode. Perhaps. Should tv makers be aware of the impact they make on our idea of history? Yes! But history is and always will be a collection of framed events. There is no real truth in looking at historical sources, they are all biased. No tv series will ever succeed in representing only the facts. Remember Shakespeare? He’s one of the best historical fiction writers ever ;).

I’ll keep enjoying my favorite genre and keep a critical mind when forming opinions about past events. We can’t expect everyone to do that, but blaming either Netflix or Camilla for Diana’s pain is bit too far fetched, isn’t it?

Do you think Netflix should put a warning before every episode of ‘The Crown’ that it is historical fiction?

Milady by Laura L. Sullivan

Clarice is living with her mother on the English countryside when suddenly her father decides to take her to the court of James I. But first she gets a training in court etiquette and lovemaking together with George Villiers. Slowly, we discover the story of this formidable woman who will become Milady The Winter, one of France’s most notorious and feared spies.

Let’s start with the fact that I’m a huge ‘the three musketeers’ fan. I loved the book by Dumas and the BBC series ‘the musketeers’ is one of my favorite series that I could watch over and over. But my all-time favorite character of Dumas’ universe is definitely Milady. She’s the perfect female antagonist. I admire her strength, courage and wit.

So I needed to read this book. I hadn’t heard of Laura L. Sullivan before and this appears to be her first adult novel. She has written Milady’s story with tons of respect for the original plot. You feel that she has done a lot of research into Dumas’ story and the history behind it. The novel has two different time frames. We learn Milady’s story behind the events in ‘the three musketeers’, but Sullivan also takes us to her past as Clarice, a young Englishwoman.

I loved the first setting at the English court where she and George Villiers try to make their place at court. I also enjoyed to read about her relationship with Athos, the compte de la fère. But there’s also a setting in the middle of the novel that I enjoyed less. In the convent Sullivan lost me at times, as not every element of the plot contributed to the story in my opinion.

Sullivan hasn’t changed the character of Milady, she just made her more human. A young naive girl in a man’s world. A girl that grows into a villain, a murderess and a spy because of all the men that have abused her in so many ways during her life. She’s a woman that has learned her lessons the hard way. But she still does evil. And she doesn’t hide from the consequences of her misdeeds. You can love and hate her at the same time and so you understand what Athos must be feeling towards her.

Milady is a great retelling of one my favourite classics. It made me want to reread the three musketeers immediately, as I felt that I’ve missed some of the details. And maybe I should reread this book too after finishing Dumas’ masterpiece! Milady has once again stolen my heart. Highly recommended if you loved the original story.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s your favourite retelling?

What do I want to read in 2021?

I’m not the kind of person who sets a fixed TBR for each year, season or month. I love the
spontaneity of just grabbing an interesting read in the library. But because of that, it might occur that the books on my shelves, Kindle and wishlist are being neglected by library reads. A TBR can help to prioritize the books I really want to read. So, this is an experiment to see if a yearly TBR with a limited number of highly anticipated books (already on my shelves) will help me pick these up sooner.

So I decided to select this 10 books I would like to finish in 2021:

  1. First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

This one was also on my autumn TBR, but I chose ‘Queen of the north’ over this one. However, I do want to read more of Hickson’s books. And this one about Jasper Tudor is next.

2. Amenable women by Mavis Cheek

A dual timeframe novel about Anne Of Cleves that I bought at a library sales. It has been on my shelves for more than a year now and I hope this to be an entertaining and easy read.

3. Revelation by C.J. Sansom

The next Matthew Shardlake is set during Henry VIII’s last marriage with Catherine Parr. I won’t wait long to read this.

4. World without end by Ken Follett

I have bought this one for my boyfriend as a Christmas present. We both enjoyed Pillars of the earth a lot, but the books are huge and I hope having a physical copy will help to prioritize this series. The third book, a column of fire, is already on my shelves ;).

5. A book from C.W. Gortner

This can either be the Vatican princess that tells the story of Lucrezia Borgia or The Romanov Empress about Maria Feodorovna (I own both). I love his writing.

6. The scarlet Contessa by Jeanna Kalogridis

The first kindle book I bought but still haven’t read. It always gets snowed over by other books, but I do love the story of Catherine Sforza. It feels like I’m saving this one for the perfect moment, but as perfect doesn’t exist, I do want to read it this year.

7. Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cornwell

This is the next installment in the Saxon series about Uthred of Bebbanburg. I loved the cliffhanger of the previous book, the empty throne.

8. Of price and blood by Patricia Bracewell

I’m not good at finishing trilogies if I wait to long with starting the second book. But I don’t want this to happen with Bracewell’s book. The first novel about Emma Normandy was one of my top 2020 reads, so I just have to read ‘the price of blood’ in 2021.

9. A thousand ships by Nathalie Haynes

Let this be my next Greek retelling fix! It has been on my radar for more than a year now.

10. The Essex serpent by Sarah Perry

Another one I can borrow from my boyfriend that neither him nor I’ve read. I have no clue why I’m waiting to start this one. It seems like the perfect autumn read.

What will you be reading in 2021?

Queen of the north by Anne ‘O Brien

Elizabeth Mortimer has royal Plantagenet blood and is married to Harry Hotspur Percy, the heir to the greatest earldom in the north. She believes her young nephew Edmund Mortimer to be second in line to the throne after the childless and unpopular king Richard II. But many don’t want another child king and support her other cousin Henry Of Lancaster instead. When Henry sets foot in England again after years in exile while Richard has suffered grave defeat in Ireland, the battle for the throne is on. Elizabeth’s husband and stepfather join forces with Lancaster and abandon the Mortimer cause. Will there ever be Mortimer king?

This is the second book I’ve read from Anne O’ Brien after having enjoyed ‘the shadow queen‘ about Joan Of Kent a few years ago. Queen Of The North is one of the books she has written around powerful women during Henry IV’s troubled reign. The novel opens with Henry of Lancaster returning to England to gather support to defy king Richard II. The Percy army in the north is preparing to join him.

We meet Elizabeth Mortimer, the wife of the famous Harry Hotspur. The Mortimers are the heirs of Lionel, second son of Edward III, but through the female line of Elizabeth’s mother Filippa Plantagenet. This weakens the claim of her eight-year-old nephew Edmund should Richard die childless. I’ve never really understood why the Mortimer didn’t try harder to get on the throne. They have a stronger claim (if you ignore the female part of it), but history will be forever talking about Lancaster and York. So I found it really interesting to read this story from a Mortimer point of view.

Elizabeth is also a Percy and thus future ‘queen’ of the north. We meet her ambitious stepfather, the earl of Northumberland, and her husband Harry “Hotspur” as he is referred to by the Scots. The marriage between Elizabeth and Harry is quite happy, although there are some serious clashes between them in this novel, not in the least about the succession. Their relationship is the most compelling part of the book in my opinion. I really could love and hate Harry at the same time.

I had hoped that the rebellion would be the biggest part of the novel, but it happens quite fast and the second half focuses even more on Elizabeth’s development as a traitor to the crown. Near the end of the story, I had more and more sympathy for her feelings.

We also meet Queen Joan Of Navarre and Constance Of York in this novel. About both women O’ Brien has written a separate novel. I have the one about Constance ready on my shelves and am curious if I will like her more than in I did this book.

O’ Brien focuses on the story of women, this also means that the main character is far from the action that happens at the battlefield. There are also some serious time jumps adding to the pace of the novel. All things together, I find O’ Brien’s writing style a bit too dry and distant. She lacks the flair of a Joanna Hickson or Elizabeth Fremantle for example. But she writes about forgotten women with a unique story, so I’ll continue to read her books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read any books set during Henry IV reign?

January recap

Hi there,

Time for my first recap of 2021. I had a great reading month, starting of my classics club challenge with a bang. At the moment, I’m in the midst of Tudor England enjoying Catherine Of Aragon’s story.

Read(ing)

Number of pages read: 1.659 pages
Number of books finished: 3
Favorite read: The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
Centuries visited: 17th century and 19th century
Countries visited: England and France
Currently reading: Katherine Of Aragon, the true queen by Alison Weir. I’m on page 318.
Next up: Flowers of darkness by Tatiana De Rosnay

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

  • The king’s evil by Andrew Taylor. I’ve decided to read on with this series as I love the setting (alas, more than the characters).

Watched

  • Not so much as I focused on reading and doing some at home pilates in the evenings. I’m still enjoying ‘Once upon a time’ though.
  • After finishing the tenant of Wildfell hall, I started watching the Jane Eyre BBC miniseries again with Toby Stephens. I could use another Brontë fix :D.

Links I enjoyed

How was your January? Did you finish some great books?

The gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

490 B.C. The Persian army is ready to invade Greece. In Athens, they won’t welcome another dictator as they have beaten the last one decades ago with Sparta’s help. Now every free man has a vote in their democratic political system. Xanthippus, Aristides, Miltiades and Themistocles are all ‘strategos’ who will lead their people to war. They send word to Sparta and the other Greek cities for help. The two armies will meet at the battle of Marathon. It’s the start of a war between two kingdoms and a power struggle between Athens and Sparta that will have a mark on Greece for years to come.

I loved Iggulden’s Emperor series about Caesar and Brutus so much that I definitely want to reread it someday. But strangely, I haven’t picked up any other book from this author until now. Not even his books about the Wars of the Roses.

The gates of Athens is the first part in a new series about the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, although in this book the focus is on the war with king Darius and his son Xerxes of Persia. I’m not quite familiar with this history and haven’t studied Greek in high school (only Latin). So it took me some time to get to know all the names and the setting.

The story focuses on two great battles, and thus reminded me of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series. The battle of Marathon is the big event during the first 100 pages. After the battle, we go back to Athens and the story starts focusing on the lives of the main characters and the political intriges in the city. This was the part I enjoyed most as I learned a lot about how the democracy in Athens worked. I found the voting system, where every free man could write a name on a piece of broken pottery to banish him for 10 years, especially interesting.

The story is a bit slow and I read this one in a week that I couldn’t really focus on anything, so I couldn’t give it all the attention it deserved. But that isn’t Iggulden’s fault. He’s a great storyteller. His battle scenes are epic and his character development is terrific.

No doubt, I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but in the meantime I might finally start with Stormbird, his first book about the Wars of the Roses.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me authors I read in 2020

TTT is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and every Tuesday there’s a new topic to list ten books. Today is all about new authors I discovered in 2020. Of the 39 books I read in 2020, 24 authors were new to me. So I’ll limit my today’s top ten to authors I want to read another book from.

  1. Caroline Lea

One of my favourite reads of 2020. I enjoyed Lea’s writing a lot! Her next book is called ‘the metal heart’ and has a totally different setting (WOII) so I’m really curious if I’ll like it as much as ‘the glass woman’.

2. Pat Barker

Pat Barker wasn’t the kind of author I was drawn to until she started writing Greek retellings. I love Greek retellings! The silence of the girls is a raw and feminist retelling of The Trojan War. And I’ll certainly read the sequel ‘The woman of a Troy’ which is to be released in 2021.

3. Patricia Bracewell

Another solid 5-star-read of 2020. This is only the first book in a trilogy about Emma Of Normandy. I hope to read the next book(s) in 2021.

4. Carol McGrath

Another first part in a trilogy. And next to this Rose trilogy, she has another one about woman that played a vital role during and after the battle of Hastings in 1066. So I’ll certainly look to McGrath for another excellent historical read.

5. Andrew Taylor

I’m always looking for a good historical mysterie and Taylor offers just that. I’m curious if I’ll like the second book in the Marwood and Lovett series even more than the first, which was a bit slow at times.

6. Gail Honeyman

I believe the whole book lovers community is waiting for her next novel, isn’t it?

7. Susan Vreeland

Authors who write about art and painters always tend to grab my attention. Her book about Vermeer is on my TBR.

8. Winston Graham

I have eleven more books to go in The Poldark saga. Luckily, I enjoyed Graham’s writing :).

9. Marcus Zusak

Yes, I know. It took me ages to read The book thief. And of course, I loved it. But I’ve heard his other books aren’t that great. So I’m not quite sure if I’ll read another one of him.

10. Matt Haig

Although ‘How to stop time’ didn’t make it to my top list of 2020, I still enjoyed his writing. And I know so many people who love all of his books. So I’ll definitely try another one.

What was your favorite new to you author from 2020? And have you read any of these?